Paraguayan President Ousted: Another Right-Wing Coup in Latin America
Leftist Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo said he was ousted in a “parliamentary coup” — the latest of the right-wing coups in Latin America. This past Friday, the Paraguayan Senate voted 39 to 4 in favor of impeaching and removing Lugo, a politician known for defending peasant rights and aiming to improve life for the working class. Lugo ended more than 60 years of right-wing rule when elected in 2008.
A recent riot over peasant land triggered Lugo’s removal. Two months ago, a group of 60 peasant farmers occupied land that was taken away from them 40 years ago during dictator-rule and given to a wealth landowner. On June 15, when law enforcement officials entered the camp to talk to the peasants, a riot ensued that left 11 peasants and 6 police officers dead. Police surrounded and closed the area off to human rights advocates, and then ultimately burned the site down, clearing all evidence. The next day, a group of family members, activists, and journalists went to the site and found two peasant bodies and war weapons — these are not used by peasants and are believed to be those of another group.
Right-wingers in the government began threatening Lugo with impeachment for failing to keep public order, and caused him to negotiate and fire his interior minister and national director of police and replace them with right-wing officials. This angered the Liberal Party, which joined with the right-wingers to impeach Lugo. During the quick five-hour impeachment trial, Lugo had only two hours to defend himself.
Today, Democracy Now!reported that a 2009 WikiLeaks cable revealed that U.S. officials knew that right-wing forces were looking for an opportunity to remove Lugo. The cable described their "goal" as: "Capitalize on any Lugo missteps to break the political deadlock in Congress, impeach Lugo and assure their own political supremacy."
Leaders of various Latin American countries are angered by the coup. The South American trade bloc removed Paraguay from its organization. Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez said he will cut off fuel sales to the country, and leaders in Argentina and Brazil recalled their ambassadors. The U.S. State Department spokesperson said they were still looking into matters.
This coup comes after a history of right-wing, often U.S.-backed, coups in Latin America and only three years after Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was ousted by a military coup. The leftist president fought for the poor, even raising the minimum wage by 60 percent. Zelaya did not support free trade agreements with the U.S. and began building a civilian airport on a U.S. military base. Some soldiers that overthrew him were members of the School of the Americas or had ties to U.S. lobbyists. During the coup, hundreds of human rights activists, journalists and any other opposition members were jailed or killed. The U.S. took no measures to condemn the coup and ultimately welcomed the newly installed president. Much violence remains in Honduras.
Paraguayans plan to resist the coup. According to The Christian Science Monitor, Pablo Ogeda, secretary of the Paraguayan Campesino Movement, said: "In a couple of days, we are hoping to have 50,000 peasants gathered in the center of Asunción. We are going to fight this."